Popular Front is a Warning from History

Issue section: 

John Shemeld, Jamie Rankin and Phil Webster argue that it was right to call for a vote for Chirac in the French presidential elections (July/August SR).

Rankin in particular dismisses the experience of the fight against fascism in the 1930s as having no relevance today. In fact applying the lessons of a period when the stakes were even higher is crucial.

In both the Spanish and French elections of 1936 most of the left supported unprincipled alliances with liberal capitalist parties against the fascists. In both cases, the far right was defeated electorally, only to triumph by other means. The revolutionary movements of both Spanish and French workers were held back and ultimately betrayed by their leaders' alliances with so called 'democratic' bosses.

Just because Chirac is not likely to invite Le Pen to form a government in the near future does not make this historical experience lose its force. Chirac has played an important role in boosting Le Pen, both indirectly, by attempting to steal his clothes on racism and 'insecurity', but also directly by making local alliances with the Front National against the left. Chirac will do this again if it suits him.

Not calling for a vote for Chirac is not the same as calling for abstention which implies that there is no difference between the fascists and the Gaullists.

At this year's Unison conference Tony Blair's supporters sought to blame the Socialist Alliance for the BNP's success in the local elections in Burnley and the French revolutionary left for Le Pen's vote in the presidential elections. Calling for a vote for Chirac gives ground to this argument.

Chirac has been able to exploit his success in the presidential elections to unify the non-fascist right and win the parliamentary elections. The far left has failed to fully build on its vote in the presidential elections.

Campaigning against the Nazis is only half the fight. It is also vital to offer a socialist alternative to the social democratic parties whose betrayals are opening the door to the far right.

Tony Phillips
Waltham Forest